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Animating a 3D Text Path Promo in After Effects
David Smith on Wed, February 6th 0 comments
Take full control of Adobe After Effects as David Smith shows how to conjure up a short promo video (for a fictional TV show) in this article.

This is part one of a series of articles that will guide you through the creation of this short promo video for a fictional TV show. In this article I will focus on the creation of Animated Text on a 3D Path. 

Step 1 - Build a Comp

So I have imported an Image of a winding desert road, somewhere in Arizona or similar. You could use footage instead if you wish, what's really important about your choice is that you have a curve in the road. Also that the road stretches out into the horizon. 

Pic 1 - Comp Made.

Press Command-N and create a new comp. I've created this one using the HDTV 1080 25 preset. Set the duration to 5 seconds. Drag the image to the timeline to place it in the comp and make it fit.

Step 2 - Add Text

Pick up the Horizontal Type Tool Command-T and click on the comp to create a Text layer. 

**Pic 2 - Text added

Type the name of the show 'Road Trip'.

Step 3 - Format the Text

Select the text 'Road Trip' by double-clicking on the type on screen. The Character panel will open automatically. 

Pic 3 - Format Text.

Set the font to STIXGeneral, or similar text and the size to 63 px. I haven't tweaked the Tracking myself, however you might find it useful to experiment with it.

Step 4 - Use Sampled Color

The color of the text is important to the overall look. To make sure it matches in with the road sample the color from the painted lines in the picture. 

Pic 4, sample color.

In the Character panel activate the Fill color and use the adjacent eyedropper to sample from the picture. 

Step 5 - Start the Path

Next we are going to add a path to the Text Layer, that the text will eventually align to.

Pick up the Pen Tool, press G. The path will run parallel to the road lines, so keep that in mind when you place the first vortex point. 

Pic 5 First point.

With the text layer selected in the timeline, click and drag, pulling a handle in the direction you want the path to curve. 

Step 6 - End the Path

Click and drag a second time so that the path you are creating matches the curve of the road. 

Pic 6, Second point.

Step 7 - Align the Text to the Path

Once the Path is drawn, open the Text Layer properties in the Timeline and find the Text options. In there you will find Path Options. 

Pic 7, Align to Path.

Set the Path option to Mask 1, this will make the text 'Road Trip' align with the path, and therefore the road. 

Step 8 - Convert to 3D

The text is running down the road, however it isn't flat against the tarmac. To achieve this first turn the Text layer into a 3D layer

Pic 8, 3D layer.

Then press R to activate the Rotate parameter in the timeline.

Step 9 - Rotate the Layer on the X & Y Axis

Because the layer is now 3D, when you rotate the Text on the X axis it will begin to lean back to match the angle of the road. 

Pic 9 Rotate settings.

Rotate on the X axis -85° (be aware your angle might need to be adjusted to make it fit your image). Use the Y axis also as this will help make the angle of your text match the road surface even better. Rotate the Y axis to -3°.

Step 10 - Adjust the Path

Rotating the layer will also adjust the Path on the same 3D axis and result in its position, having been in-line with the road markings, falling into disarray. Use the selection tool to readjust the two Vortex points of the Path. 

Pic 10 - Path Adjust.

Use the Handles to adjust the curve so that it matches the road lines again. At this stage, it's also worth zooming out a little Command--(hyphen) and move the end of the path off screen. This preempts a later stage in our workflow.

Step 11 - Animate Along the Path

To make the text run along the road surface we are going to animate it along the path. Dig down into the Text layer parameters and open the Path Options. The First Margin setting will adjust the position of the text on the Path. Try dragging the value back and forth, see the text move. 

Pic 11 - First Margin start.

Press Home to make sure you are on frame 0:00:00:00. Toggle the First Margin stopwatch to create a keyframe, set the value to  -85, so the text starts back along the road some distance. 

Step 12 - Animate off the Path

Press End to move to the last frame 0:00:04:24 and set the First Margin value to 687. This high a number will ensure that the text will continue until it runs of screen. 

Pic 12 Margin value set to 687.

For now just scrub the CTI along the timeline to se the effect. 

Step 13 - Add a Mid-point Keyframe

Now that the animation is set, we can get set to create a point at which the text slows down, making it easier to read. 

Pic 13, keyframe added.

Type 2.21 into the Timelines current timecode field and press Return to move the CTI to that position. This is where the text is probably at it's most readable size and position. Right-click on the First Margin parameter and from the menu choose Add Keyframe.

Step 14 - Ease in and Out

With the Keyframe in place, select the keyframe and press F9 to create an Easy Ease at that point. You could also use the Keyframe Assistant menu Animation > Keyframe Assistant > Easy Ease. F9 is easier though, right? 

Pic 14. easy ease/

To see the true affect of the Easy Ease, keep the First Margin parameter selected and open the Graph Editor in the Timeline. The handles create a shallow curve around the Keyframe, As a result, the animation slows slightly. I've lengthened the handles on either side, to increase the size of the shallow curve. This will increase the time on screen that the text is moving slowly.

Step 15 - Create the Peel Out

The effect I'm looking for is for the text to drive up, slow down. Then peel away (tires screeching, etc). The ease out handle will achieve this. Drag the ease out (the one pointing towards the end frame) and drag it down so that initially it curves down.

Pic 15, curve down.

The down curve will result in the First Margin animation playing backwards, before returning to playing forwards as the curve starts to travel upwards again. For the best effect, try to create a sharp curve that is shorter going down and longer coming back up (not dissimilar to the Nike Logo). 

TIP: Keep experimenting with the timing until you are happy. When you are done, close the Graph Editor. 

Step 16 - Fade in

Lastly, the text is a little large to begin with, and doesn't really sit on the road all that well on the start frame. Let's add a little Opacity change to solve this. Press Home to go to frame 0:00:00:00 and then press T to open the Opacity parameter. Set the value to 0%. 

Pic 16, opacity.

Type 14 into the Current Timecode field and press Return. At frame 14, set the opacity value back to 100%. The timing still isn't right, the text starts to fade in too quickly. Try dragging the Keyframe at 0:00:00:00 to 0:00:00:09 so the fade-in doesn't begin immediately. It looks better now I hope?

So that's the first part done. But you're not finished yet. Save this project and then get ready to have continue with the second part, where we will create a custom text animator to add the Channel ident. 

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